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Marginal Prophet

Jeremiah is one of the most favourite prophets in part because he is so transparent about his call and its consequences. He certainly didn’t go out of his way to be a prophet. You couldn’t really blame him. At the time of his call, during the reign of King Josiah, the southern kingdom of Judah was not at the peak of its historical greatness. The ten tribes from the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrian invasion some ninety years earlier, and although Josiah was one of the better southern kings, his reforms were not far-reaching enough to have much of an impact. Not only that, but the call that Jeremiah receives is very unusual. Unlike almost every other Jewish prophet, Jeremiah is called to not only be a prophet for the people of Israel, but also for all the nations. All the nations at that time means all those kingdoms that surrounded the kingdom of Judah, and which were larger, mightier, better resourced, and likely to continue to kick their butt in any conflict. So it is little wonder that young Jeremiah is not having a great day in answering this call. In the Gospel today we continue the reading from Luke 4, beginning with the last line that we heard last Sunday: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.” (Luke 4:21Luke 4:21English: World English Bible - WEB21 He began to tell them, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”WP-Bible plugin) And even though Jesus is taking a very Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61:1-2Isaiah 61:1-2English: World English Bible - WEB61 1 The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh...

Anointed and Sent

The scene that is presented to us today from the book of Nehemiah is much more significant than it perhaps at first appears. The people of Israel have recently returned from the devastating period of exile in Babylon, which began with the complete destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its temple in 586 BCE, and which was only coming to an end because the Babylonian empire had itself been conquered by the Persians, and their new king Cyrus was favourable to the people of Israel returning to their homeland and resuming their life there. The slow recovery, which included the reconstruction of basic services in the city, including the wall around Jerusalem, was led by Nehemiah and supported by the scribe Ezra. Until this time, most Jewish religious life was centred either in the home or in the temple. But when the temple was destroyed, the place of the home began to increase in prominence. So the action of Ezra gathering the whole nation together in the main square of the city and to read the scriptures to them together was utterly radical. It had never happened in the whole 1500 year history of God’s people before this time. The description of this event is very moving – complete with the strong emotional responses of the people as the word is proclaimed, interpreted and explained in their midst over a six-or-so hour period by Ezra. Most likely he read from the book of Deuteronomy – which usually doesn’t provoke quite as strong a reaction when it is read within the context of the Catholic Mass! This event is...

The Baptism of Jesus and ours

When you come to reflect on the baptism of Jesus, the first thing that you need to take account of is how odd an event it must have been. The primary significance of the baptism that John was offering was a washing from sin and a ritual of repentance. It was in direct competition to the sacrificial system of the temple which was all about cleansing a person from personal sin and recognising how terrible sin was – to be cleansed involved the death of an animal – that should tell us how seriously people understood sin. And yet Jesus was here, asking John to baptise him. We profess that Jesus was like us in all things – except sin. So why is the sinless one presenting himself alongside all the other riff-raff of the day to be washed clean? There is no universally agreed answer – which is why the early church considered the baptism of Jesus as such a scandal – even if it is attested by all four gospels. Perhaps the best answer is that it was part of his call to be in solidarity with all people – especially those who knew themselves to be far from God. Play MP3 Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (10mins) Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, Year...

Epiphany – the choice of the Magi

In considering the account of the Magi arriving in Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the gospel is already richly told. Even so, many traditions, legends and carols have added all kinds of details to the story, most of which cannot be supported by the text itself. When the magi arrive in Jerusalem, they would first have to have made their presence known to Herod, the King of Israel and thereby seek an audience with him. They must have presented as guests of some significance in order for their request to be granted. When they finally had the opportunity to make their request to Herod and ask their question of the place of birth of the prophesied king “of the Jews”, no doubt they would have been surprised that this king did not know something so basic in the spiritual and religious law and traditions of the people that Herod was supposed to serve. When the chief priests and scribes are called, they give the obvious answer of the city of David: Bethlehem. When they finally arrive at the house of the holy family, they do the only thing that they can: they kneel in worship before the child Jesus and offer the most previous gifts that they can provide. The response of the magi stands in stark contrast to that of Herod. Although he talks sweetly and feigns religious allegiance, Herod is insanely threatened by the birth of this child as a potential and likely claimant to the throne that he had worked so hard through political intrigue to achieve. So rather then contemplating worship or blessing, Herod’s response is...

The Holy Dysfunctional Family

Flowing directly out of the celebration of Christmas this year we have the opportunity to reflect upon not only the holy family of Nazareth, but also our own conceptions and ideas of family. In my case, I know that many of my most basic understandings of family came from comparing the idealised image of family that came from watching perhaps far too many mainly American sitcoms and family dramas as a child – with my experience of family. And it would be fair to say that it seemed that my family rarely measured up to the esteemed heights of the Walton family or the Brady bunch. We never seemed to be able to solve all of our problems within the allotted half-hour or hour, and things sometimes seemed more complicated than ensuring that we all said goodnight to each other would fix. As I have grown older and experienced many more family situations, I have discovered the often-quoted declaration that there are only two kinds of families in the world – the dysfunctional families and the very-dysfunctional families. Thankfully in the scriptures that we are presented with today, we discover that being a holy family and being a dysfunctional family may not be incompatible. Play MP3 Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (8min) Feast of the Holy Family, Year C. 1 Sam 1: 20-281 Sam 1: 20-28English: World English Bible - WEB20 It happened, when the time was come about, that Hannah conceived, and bore a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of Yahweh. 21 The man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer to Yahweh the yearly sacrifice, and...

Christmas Day – the Compassion of God

There is an extraordinary line in the second reading today – ‘When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any righteous thing that we had done, but because of his mercy.’ (Titus 3:4-5Titus 3:4-5English: World English Bible - WEB4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,WP-Bible plugin) We have often understood Judaism and its focus on the laws and commandments of Torah which included the 613 mitzvah to be about a religious system that emphasised the keeping of the laws and the rewards that this would merit. But this reading turns that whole emphasis on its head to remind us that to be saved is all about God’s kindness, favour and compassion – not our righteousness. And for this we can be eternally grateful. Play MP3 Recorded at St Paul’s (7 mins) Christmas, Midnight Mass (readings of the Dawn Mass) Video Reflection: Seek (Dan Stevers) Video before Mass: A Christmas Prayer (Shift...

The book of genesis of Matthew

All the Gospels are anonymous. But when early Christians began collecting them in the second century, they needed a way to distinguish each one from the others. So they gave them titles. The title “According to Matthew” is affixed to this Gospel because church tradition had credited it to Matthew, one of the twelve. It is fitting that Matthew’s Gospel is the first book in the New Testament because it was the favourite Gospel of the early Christians. You see, the first disciples were all Jews; and Matthew sought to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of David, sent by God to rule His kingdom. So Matthew, more than the other Gospel writers, found Jesus’ messiahship in strange and wonderful places where Jews would know to look: in genealogies, titles, numerology, and fulfilled prophecies. Matthew wants his mainly Jewish audience, as God’s chosen people, to consider how Jesus is the true son of Abraham, the ideal for Israel, even the perfect candidate to be the Anointed One. So he shows how Jesus identified with Israel—even with their spending time in exile in Egypt—and yet, unlike Israel, He did not fall into disobedience. As Matthew tells the story, Jesus has come to fill the Scripture full by His teachings and His example. In this way, Jesus is a new Moses, a new Lawgiver. But again, He is greater than Moses because He gives the law and writes it directly on the hearts of His disciples and of any who care to overhear the message of the kingdom of heaven. According to Matthew, five sermons of Jesus complete the picture of Jesus as Lawgiver. They don’t replace...

The law of four – part 4 (The Infancy Narratives)

As we have wandered through the stories behind the stories of the gospels and their composition and connection to the church, life and our own histories, it seemed appropriate to think about how the stories that are told about the birth of Jesus would fit within this new understanding. So considering the writings of the New Testament, it is worth looking at how the story of Jesus was built up over time. For example, by the mid-60s, when the Gospel of Mark was being written in the city of Rome, the letters of Paul (presuming that all thirteen are genuine and written in the life-time of Paul – and I have never seen any truly compelling information or argument to doubt that) would all have been complete. What is interesting about these letters is how little they speak about the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, only five pieces of information about Jesus are found in these letters, most of which are fairly obvious and not all that helpful. Namely, Jesus: was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4Galatians 4:4English: World English Bible - WEB4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law,WP-Bible plugin) – that is especially insightful was Jewish, “born under the law” (Galatians 4:4Galatians 4:4English: World English Bible - WEB4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law,WP-Bible plugin) was a biological descendant of David (Romans 1:3Romans 1:3English: World English Bible - WEB3 concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,WP-Bible plugin) had brothers (1 Corinthians 9:51 Corinthians 9:5English: World...

The law of four – part 3

We saw in the first week of this series that one of the places that we see the law of four is in every great story ever told as well as in the story of our own lives – the pattern of (1) Hearing the summons; (2) Enduring the obstacles; (3) Receiving the prize/favour and finally (4) Returning to the community. This pattern runs very deeply within our physical and spiritual DNA, and we can easily understand that this is something is good and God-given. So it should be no small wonder to realise that this pattern is also able to be seen in the order of the Gospels that the tradition of the church has given us to read them. Although the Gospels, as we saw last week, were written in the order of Mark – Matthew – Luke and John, and the Gospels are given us the order of Matthew – Mark – Luke and John in our bibles, the early church has read them in the order of Matthew, Mark, John and Luke – and this order is also expressed in our liturgical cycle of readings. This is because this order captures this cycle of life, addressing the fundamental questions of change; suffering; joy and service that we meet in our lives. We also see more clearly how this four-fold structure is captured in the new logo that we have adopted as a parish community. Play MP3 View the slides | Read the explanation of the logo and summary of the journey so far Recorded at St Paul’s, Albion Park, 9.30am (16 min 30 secs) Advent, Week 3, Year C....

The law of four – part 2

This week in our Law of Four series, we looked in more detail at the four Gospels, and particularly the connection and relation of the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) – why we call them the Synoptic Gospels, and how over the last 150 years we have developed a better understanding of the way that these gospels are connected. We then looked at the history of the first century of Christianity in light of the question of the composition of the Gospels. Play MP3 (17 mins) Download Adobe PDF of the notes. Sunday 2, Season of...

The law of four – part 1

The new parish logo has been inspired by a much larger and more ancient reality. Looking at the nature of church and our involvement within it, as well as the structure of the liturgical year and the arrangement of the readings from the Gospels is part of what we will be considering over the next four Sundays of this new season of Advent and this new liturgical year – in this four-part series called ‘The law of four.” These are the notes from my presentation. You can also download them as Adobe PDF Over the last 1000 years & more: The world dominated by science & rationalism Emerging desire for music + art; emotion + spirit “Four” occurs often in nature Four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) Four compass points (north, south, east and west) Four stages of life (Childhood, Adolescence, Adulthood & Busyness & Babysitting)   Four occurs in other ways in nature Four chords of popular music Every great story – four parts Hearing the summons Enduring the obstacles Receiving the prize/favour Returning to the community   Four occurs in the great World Religions – Jewish Passover has four stages Being freed from slavery Wandering in the wilderness Arriving in the promised land Creating a fruitful home there   Four occurs often in the church Four liturgical colours (purple, red, white, green) Four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude & justice) Four marks of the Church (one, holy, Catholic & apostolic) Four Marian dogmas (mother of God; ever-virgin; immaculate conception; assumption) Four vocations or states of life (single, married, ordained & consecrated) Four parts to the celebration of the Mass (Introductory...

Co-workers in the kingdom

The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new feast day in the Catholic scheme of things. This is the ninetieth time that it has been celebrated, since Pope Pius XI instituted the feast day through an encyclical letter called Quas primas (In the first) which was published on 11 December 1925. Initially the feast was celebrated on the last Sunday in October (the first 45 years), but with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the revised celebration of the liturgical year in 1969, it was moved from 1970 to the thirty-fourth and final Sunday in ‘Ordinary Time’ each year (the last 45 years). Many Anglican churches have now also adopted the feast day. It seems that in the wake of the First World War, that Pope Pius was concerned about the continuing secularisation of the world and the decline in temporal power of the church, especially in Italy after the reduction of the Papal Estates. So this very ‘spiritual’ feast day has a fairly political history. The second problem is the place that the monarchy has in Australian society. Although we live in a Constitutional Monarchy, the place and power of the monarch within Australia is very carefully defined and constrained by the constitution and even more so by custom and tradition (especially after 1975). Even the visit last week of the likely future King of Australia in the person of Prince Charles and his wife impacted us very little – perhaps I should read certain magazines directed at women to get a better idea of what went on? As we know, in most of the ancient world...

Days of Darkness

The darkness of the readings today appropriately match the mood of despair and darkness after yet more senseless and violent attacks over the past few days in Beirut and especially in the city of light – Paris. The Gospel is taken from the longest discourse in the Gospel of Mark – the whole of the thirteenth chapter features a single discussion by Jesus and four of his disciples about the looming destruction of the temple and the days of darkness that would follow. It should be obvious that although this chapter is sometimes called a mini-apocalypse, the form is very different from the book of Daniel (our first reading) or Revelation. The predictions that Jesus is making relate to the immediate events that lie ahead for the community as relations between the Jewish people and the Roman occupiers would continue to deteriorate leading into the Jewish war of 66-70 CE, which would result in the siege of Jerusalem and the utter destruction of the city including the temple with an incredible loss of life. As the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus points out, the large death toll can only be partly blamed upon the Romans – infighting between the various factions led to more deaths than those inflicted directly by the brutal Roman soldiers. It is no wonder that Jesus encourages his followers to flee into the hills to escape such carnage. Such predictions and the events overseas cause us to ponder deeply upon the meaning and reality of evil. There is never an adequate answer to such horrors. The best that we can do is remember that freedom brings with...

Despair and Providence

Both the first reading and Gospel feature widows – one of the most vulnerable groups in Israel and the ancient world. When there is no social safety net, widows relied on other family members and the wider community to provide the sustenance that they could not earn themselves. Their lot was even worse when times were bad – such as during the ninth century BC famine that is the setting of I Kings 17 and the general destitution of life under the Roman Empire in the early first century AD. At the end of I Kings 16, we are told that Ahab, the son of the evil king Omri comes to the throne of Israel in Samaria, and he also does what is evil in the eyes of the Eternal One. Not only that he is in fact the most wicked King of all the wicked kings who went before him. To make matters worse, he marries the even more wicked Jezebel, daughter of the Phoenician king Ethbaal. One of the first acts that Ahab does is to make a shrine to the god Ba’al Hadad in Samaria. Soon afterwards a drought occurs resulting in widespread famine which spreads beyond the borders of Israel to include parts of Phoenicia. Chapter 17 opens with Elijah escaping to the Wadi Cherith east of the Jordan River, where he finds refuge and is able to sustain himself with water from a spring and food provided by ravens – bread and meat both in the morning and the evening. It is interesting that the Lord chooses to use an unclean bird to sustain Elijah: crows...

Saints and Blessings

When we hear the eight beatitudes that begin the Gospel of Matthew’s sermon on the mount in chapter 5, we can easily drift into very well-known territory. Every Christian is very familiar with these sayings, and this gospel or one of its many sung forms is used at weddings and funerals, graduations and dedications. Some dear soul has embroidered the text of the 12 verses and they are placed in our church next to a similar frame containing the ten commandments. But these blessings that accompany our remembrance of this day of all the saints are not new Christian commandments. These declarations are only good news for us if we realise that a beatitude is a statement that declares that certain people are fortunate, or are privileged, or are simply in a great place – because God’s future kingdom is beginning to break into our present reality now. Beatitudes are unconditional. They do not simply describe something that you hope will one day be true. They do not take the form of ‘if you will do x, then y will happen’ but unconditionally declare that those who are x will be y. In this sense, a beatitude is a prophetic declaration, because it effects what it says and brings into being what it states. So they are nothing like mere laws, because to declare a beatitude is to announce the gospel. For the beatitudes to be true depends on the truthfulness and authority of the speaker. In this case the speaker is no mere prophet, but our Lord and Saviour himself, and it is on his authority that the...
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